Spotlight: He refuses to have a sad day
If there was ever a terrific spokesman for Mindful Care Adult Services in Murfreesboro, he would be Clemmie Edwin Lewis, a program participant for the past two years. When his daughter, Angie Dean, picks him up and asks him if he had a good day, he replies, “Every day is a good day there. They are really nice people—I feel like I’ve known them forever.”
It’s easy to consider Clemmie an old friend because, as Angie points out, “I don’t think he’ll ever have a sad day.” If you walk into the Mindful Care program, which meets in donated space at New Vision Baptist Church, on one of the three days a week when Clemmie is there, you’ll see an 87-year-old man who nearly always wears a smile. “Dad likes to do everything at Mindful Care, especially flirt with the ladies,” laughs Angie. “He loves the company and the fellowship.”
Not that Clemmie hasn’t had his share of sadness in his life. He lost his wife of 38 years just over two years ago and his last of three sons a year ago. Five years ago, he lost his oldest son, and his second-to-oldest son at age 16. “He doesn’t forget about his losses,” Angie notes. “But his brain apparently works differently than most people’s because he just bounces back.” Angie adds that his memory issues may be a blessing because he doesn’t experience grief in the way others would.
Clemmie was never rich, but his family made him a wealthy man. He had five children of his own. His first wife succumbed to leukemia when Angie was a year and a half old. Her siblings were only a few years older. “Clemmie was basically left with four kids to raise.”
As Angie explains, it never took Clemmie too long “to find someone else to step in.” Eventually Clemmie’s family resembled TV’s Brady Bunch, swelling to eight children. “My dad married quickly,” Angie laughs. “But he always made great choices—women of great character who were good to us.”
Clemmie was born in Mantee, Mississippi. His father owned a sawmill, which was where Clemmie learned the ethic of hard work. After attending college for a short time, he heard about jobs that were available in Mobile, Alabama. While there, he had the opportunity to help someone in construction, which launched his lifelong career of building and remodeling homes. “He can still tell you how to build anything,” says Angie, “and if he was still physically able, he’d do it himself.”
As a disciplinarian, Angie says that her dad was strict and expected his children to obey. However, he mellowed as the years passed. “I remember my sister and I coming home with friends one night, waking dad up and asking him if he would make some homemade ice cream—and that would be at 11 at night. And he actually did it. That may be my favorite memory of my childhood. There was a lot of old fashioned, hand cranked, homemade ice cream in our family. Dad won the affection of his step-daughter, while dating her mother, by bringing her homemade ice cream.” Other fond memories include the times Clemmie and Angie’s stepmom took them to church and church outings and accompanied Angie’s youth group when they sang at area schools and prisons.
Angie also describes Clemmie as “old-school.” As a young girl, she recalls her father coming home, sitting in his chair and waiting for someone to bring him his iced tea. “Then we’d fight about who got to take off his shoes. Even today he’ll sit at the table with an empty glass and wait for me to get up and get him something,” she says with a laugh.
Clemmie retired at age 62 because, as Angie notes, he didn’t think he would live to be very old. He filled his time doing odd jobs, until he landed a seat on the council of The Town of Oak Grove, Alabama. Later he ran for mayor and served the town in that capacity for three years. “He loved it,” Angie says. “I think it was the highlight of his career. Some days he would spend behind his desk. Or I would call him and ask what he was doing and he would say, ‘I’m out here looking at the city tractor.’ And he was probably in overalls.”
Angie and her husband, Chris, have been Clemmie’s primary caregivers for two years. Clem visited Mindful Care during his visits prior to living in Murfreesboro. This made the transition from living on his own easier because this gave him the social circle he would be missing just staying at home. Early on, they found Mindful Care on the Internet. Because both Chris and Angie had to continue working, they enrolled Chris’ father, David, in the program nearly four years ago. Being familiar with the program, it proved to be a good fit for Clemmie as well. The time by herself allows Angie to keep her job and work at home or in the office.
“Mindful Care has been huge for us,” Angie says. “When I’m working at home I can be one-hundred percent focused. But the nicest thing about the program is how much both of them enjoy it. We would not feel good about having them go to a program if they didn’t have a great time while they were there.”
Her dad’s philosophy has guided Angie all the way through her life, she points out. “If you can do something about it, do it—if you can’t, don’t worry about it because it won’t do any good anyway.” Angie recalls the time they lived in a trailer and a tornado was headed their way. A neighbor was frantically knocking on their door, and Clemmie acted like it wasn’t a big deal. “My dad’s just never been a worrier.”